Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback William Ferdie Brown was born on 2 December 1940 in Yazoo City, Mississippi. He attended Grambling College and excelled on defense. No team in either the National Football League (NFL) or American Football League (AFL) drafted him; he signed with the AFL’s Houston Oilers as a free agent in 1963. The Oilers cut Willie before the end of training camp, but he signed with the Denver Broncos for the 1963 season. Brown became the starting cornerback for the Broncos midway through his rookie season. The 6ʹ1ʺ, 195-pound linebacker quickly established himself as a standout at his position, earning AFL all-star honors in 1964 and 1965. Brown also earned outstanding defensive player honors at the 1965 AFL All-Star Game.
The Broncos traded Brown to the Oakland Raiders prior to the 1967 season. Brown’s skills and aggressive leadership of the talented Raider defense helped Oakland achieve a record of 125–35–7 over his twelve-year tenure. The Raiders played in three AFL championship games and six AFC championship games with Brown at cornerback and earned trips to Super Bowls II and XI. Brown intercepted 54 passes during his pro career, returning them for a total of 472 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a memorable pick-six during Super Bowl XI against the Minnesota Vikings. With the Raiders leading 26–7 midway through the fourth quarter, Viking QB Fran Tarkenton threw a pass intended for wide receiver Sammy White. Brown intercepted Tarkenton’s pass and ran 75 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. The Raiders won 32–14, earning their first NFL championship.
Over his sixteen seasons in the AFL and NFL, Brown stood out as the premier cornerback of his time. He earned all-league honors seven times, three in the AFL and four in the NFL. He played in five AFL all-star games, was named all-AFC four times, and started in four NFL Pro Bowls. Brown retired as a player in 1978 but remained with the Raider organization as a defensive backfield coach through 1988 and subsequently as the director of squad development. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984 and was also a member of at least seven other halls of fame: Louisiana Sports, Grambling State, Southwestern Athletic Conference, Mississippi Sports, Black Sports, Bay Area Sports, and Black College Football.
- John Lombardo, Raiders Forever: Stars of the NFL’s Most Colorful Team Recall Their Glory Days (2000)
- Pro Football Hall of Fame website, http://www.profootballhof.com